Wrestling with the Tension of Learning–American Education Week

I am filled with hope and optimism about our journey in American Education. I want to thank you for your hard work on behalf of the children of your schools. I know we often think this is a sprint but it is truly a marathon. In our short time together, I have learned a few things. We have some of the finest children in the Commonwealth. We have some of the most conscientious and passionate teachers in the Commonwealth. And yet again, I am struck by how much stronger we are together than we are apart. It is truly a team effort.

The work over the last few years is beginning to bear fruits in both delightful and unpredictable ways. We can see this in the rising test scores across the district, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Our kids are routinely defying our expectations in so many domains. I have been thinking a lot about the tension between teaching students what they need to know and exploring what they want to learn. How do we help them develop the skills they need to succeed? What is the perfect balance between the foundational skills in literacy and mathematics and creativity and ingenuity? How do we teach students to be disciplined learners who appreciate that mastery and success only comes after the time spent, through trial and error, is well worth the effort? What does this teaching look like in so many different classrooms? Don’t we all experience the same tension? How do we balance foundation work with the inspirational work of creativity?

Think how, if every one of our engaged students are learning just a bit more than they did the day before, the rolling sum of the students’ opportunities, will far surpass what any one teacher can do alone. Think about the incremental benefits over time and how great that American Education, and Centennial in particular, embraces this wide array of learning. I know that we can nurture the dynamic process that cuts the tension between foundational skills and creativity because I see this in many classrooms every day. The creative process thrives in the way that teachers create the opportunities for learning for the students. Every time a teacher designs a lesson, that teaches children and not simply content, they know it. Every time a teacher is willing to say he or she does not have the answer, but will work alongside the student to find the answer, we see it.

By allowing them the gift of creating real work through Genius Hour, project based learning and authentic engagement, while holding them accountable to learning the basics and helping them be kind and engage with a wide range of humanity, they are achieving great things, and we know it. How do we nurture the dynamic process that helps our students embrace the creative process while ensuring they are developing life-long skills?

I see you doing it daily and across the schools. By embracing the tension between learning the basics and creating opportunities to own authentic learning you are helping our students excel. And you are doing it with laughter, joy and passion—great stuff indeed! My current favorite musicians are two fellows who are definitely classically trained cellists. This YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=uT3SBzmDxGk is an elegant illustration of how the foundational skills acquired through disciplined study and practice become the stepping-stone to incredible creative expression. While I tend to default to Allison Krause or Dwight Yoakim, the 2Cellos are fantastic and well worth viewing. How do we create the ecology that supports this level of risk taking and creativity while nurturing the skills needed to be this creative?

By myself that would be a daunting task, with Team Centennial, I am much more optimistic of the outcomes. We will continue to do it together, recognizing it is an imperfect journey that is long and with many twists. It is a pleasure, indeed, to be on this journey with folks who are asking the right questions, who are pushing the envelope, who are working relentlessly to increase outcomes for their students. I want to recognize your efforts this week—those who are making our district and our country a great place to be an engaged, thoughtful citizen cannot be thanked enough. This is indeed legacy work!

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